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Aron Schoenfeld

The grief that comes with giving

Training as a lifeguard, one learns self-defense techniques against the very people they aim to rescue. Adrenaline-fueled and panic-stricken, these individuals can inadvertently threaten their rescuer’s safety. Lifeguards, like all first responders, are meticulously trained to navigate these perilous situations, knowing the limits of safety and risk.

The outbreak of war in Israel on October 7 catalyzed a surge of heroism. From first responders near Gaza to the civilians in Shomron, Israeli society mobilized en masse. Spouses took on additional roles, and ordinary citizens became cooks, farmers, and supply packers. Despite a gradual return to normalcy — with schools reopening and work resuming — the war’s impact persisted.

Amidst this backdrop, many found a new calling. Initiatives like ‘Grilling for Israel’, ‘Smiles for the Kids’, and the ‘Helping Israel Fund’ intensified their efforts to support soldiers, families, and children in need. Josh Altman, a therapist from New York, emerged as a key example in these efforts. Utilizing his connections, he has raised and distributed close to $150,000, providing specialized items vital in wartime, such as video laryngoscopes for elite combat medics and gas detectors for Yahalom units.

Shira Katz, another Modiin resident, with a child in the army, has spearheaded ‘Challot for Chayalim’, a grassroot initiative to send homemade challot to basis all over the country every Friday. They have delivered hundreds of thousands of challot since the war started and continue to help bring a taste of home to the chayalim.

When the war started, I created ‘Smiles for the Kids‘ to try and shine light of hope and joy to families throughout Israel, delivering thousands of candy platters, meals to the families of soldiers, and parties for children who have fathers serving. We have raised over $200,000 and have emerged as a leader in this space. The profound impact of this initiative was evident in the joy and surprise on the faces of children receiving candy platters, and in the tearful gratitude of their mothers. “It’s the first time my child has smiled in weeks.” This is what enables me to keep going daily.

Benjy Portnoy, a member of the esteemed Portnoy family of musicians, also plays a vital role. For the past three months, he has dedicated himself to visiting hospitals and army bases daily, bringing joy and encouragement to recovering soldiers. His music and words of hope breathe life back into worried parents who spend every night anxiously by their child’s bedside. Benjy’s presence has been a source of comfort and inspiration, helping to lighten the heavy atmosphere with the power of music and empathy.

However, such selfless giving comes with a profound emotional cost. Each plea for help carries with it a story of hardship and endurance — a soldier, a child, a parent. We listen and empathize, forming deep connections with these individuals, sharing in their sorrows and triumphs. But this continuous cycle of empathy and support can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue. The more we give, the heavier the emotional burden becomes.

Yet, how can we cease our efforts when the need is so acute? When families await the safe return of their loved ones, how can we turn a blind eye? The struggle to balance self-care with the unceasing demand for compassion is a testament to our shared humanity and resilience. It’s a reminder that in the face of adversity, our collective strength and resolve to extend a helping hand makes a world of difference. Driven by empathy, even in the face of our own exhaustion, we continue to give, inspired by the hope that every act of kindness, no matter how small, brings light to these tumultuous times.

About the Author
Aron is the founder of SmilesfortheKids.com, a grassroots organization that providing support and nourishment for the families of IDF soldiers, while at the same time supporting local vendors whose businesses are in shatters because of the war.
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